1. Age and Occupation:
2. Where do you consider home?
New York City
3. How do you get to work?
I work in my apartment, so I basically walk from my living room into my office.
4. A few months ago in this space, Clay Shirkey said that most New Yorkers are exhausted by excellence, and that such a phenomenon creates space for Dale Peck who writes distilled envy, sanitized for your convenience. Would you like to respond to this?
Yeah, I saw that, and I mostly thought it was stupid. Accusations of envy are as unproveable as they are undeniable; theyre also completely irrelevantthe last refuge of people who dont want to take the time to actually refute an argument. While its tempting to say that this Shirkey guy is guilty of the thing he accuses me of, that would just be repeating his error. I dont know what his motives or reasoning are, and really dont care. And the fact is, hes half right: People dont read my reviews as literary criticism, they read them as theater, as a chance to indulge in schadenfreude, or a good excuse to not to read about a book but to read about a bookwhich is so much easier, especially when the books in question are so fucking bad.
But all this is context, not content, and it was created for my work by people other than mebloggers originally, whose commendable range of concerns is unfortunately only matched by their lack of knowledge about most things that interest them, and then by the journalists who pick up these earnest but half-baked discussions and then turn them into a story. To be sure, its been a story Ive played along with after the fact, but its not something I ever envisioned in the eight years leading up to the Moody review and my sudden prominence as a critica title I have never claimed, by the way, and still reject. I wrote Hatchet Jobs as a novelist who was trying to figure out the mechanics of books that appeal to so many people but dont appeal to me, and also in an attempt to find a way out of the aesthetic trap that so many of my peers have fallen into. My goal was never to be a Dave Eggers (or a T.S. Eliot for that matter): Im writing in the fine, old tradition of working against tradition, and if a reader is too ignorant to see that then he should go back to school, where hell be spoon-fed all the palaver he can keep down.
5. In the preface to Hatchet Jobs, you announced the retirement of your red pen. So since youre finished discussing what doesnt appeal to you, how bout a brief but positive review instead? What album really inspires you and why?
Im recently single, and have joined the ranks of people who have taken out an online personal or two. This is one of the questions I refuse to answer on the grounds that its basically free advertising for the band and question, and I pretty much hate rock stars and rock star groupies. I suppose if I listened to classical music more often that wouldnt be the case, but Im kind of a nudnik when it comes to music, and listen to rock and roll about 95 percent of the time. But whatever. I thought Bright Eyes Fevers and Mirrors was the most beautifully written album in about 20 years, and that Coner Oberst seems way too smart to be as wise as he is.
6. Eighty-one percent of Americans have a book in them and feel they should write it, according to a survey commissioned by a small Michigan publisher. When this figure was released two years ago, one of my former writing teachers published an Op-Ed in The New York Times, suggesting that the heaps of third-rate books being published nowadays are reason enough for folks to keep their books to themselves, where [they] belong. As one who writes, responds to writing, and teaches writing, what do you think about this statement?
I think anyone who wants to write a book should do so; and anyone who can get a book published should be happy. Its a fine thing to get paid for, and anyone who does it seriously can at the very least learn something about themselves. The problem with contemporary writing isnt the number of third-rate books being published, but the number of third-rate books that are being passed off as first-rate by a publishing and literary community thats so terrified of losing its place in the culture, as Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace would put it, that it has to resort to special pleading to sell its wares. Used car salesmen are able to get away with selling lemons because they think they can bank on the ignorance of their customersmost of whom dont know what a carburetor islet alone that most cars dont have them anymore. Most contemporary readers are equally unknowledgeable, especially when it comes to the esoteric vagaries of haute fictional traditionsand so have to rely on some kind of endorsement that such-and-such book is good. Thats reductive, but theres more than a little truth in it.
Then too theres the whole joiner mentality of the contemporary literary scene, whether its the inexplicable popularity of readings (surely the most boring activity under the sun) or the people who do a search for Everything Is Illuminated or Running With Scissors on nerve.com to find people like them. I went to a Believer event at the New School last year, and it reminded me of nothing so much as the week I was forced to spend at church camp when I was eight years old: Everybody was laughing at jokes that werent funny and looking around and nodding at each other as if to say, Man, that was funny! When Stephen Elliott responded to a question about James Wood by calling him a jackass, the room erupted in applause. Now thats sophisticated literary discourse.
Remembrance Of Things Past, Or Three Tried and True, With Thanks To Andrew Krucoff:
7. What era, day, or event in New York's history would you like to relive?
September 10, 2001.
8. Best celebrity sighting in New York?
Unfortunately Im a member of Soho House, so I see celebrities all the time.
9. Medication: What and how much do you take?
I take Advil when I have a headache, which is probably about twice a month.
The Rest of It:
10. In 1971, Professor Marvin Zuckerman of the University of Delaware published a Sensation Seeking Scale questionnaireasking such questions as whether you LIKE to dive off the high board, or whether you get that funny feeling in your stomach and would rather come down. On a scale of 1 to 40 (40 being Evel Knievel), where are you? Why?
Oh my God, Im such a 1. I dont even fly. I try to tell myself that thrill-seeking is unhealthy for the soul, but Im probably just a scaredy-cat.
11. What's the last thing you tried to read but didn't finish?
The Brothers Karamazov. Its no Crime and Punishment.
12. What are your plans for the Republican National Convention?
To commit civil disobedience as many times as possible.
13. Did you vote in the last election? If not, why not, and when's the last time you voted?
I vote in every election, even though Im not sure why.
14. Whats the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word overrated?
I think I just wrote a book about this. But Ill say Alan Ball, since Im working on an essay about him.
- Interview by Sarah Robbins